The “Minstrels”: the traditional melody of Ischia

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“The parking attendant is near ... and sings, a bit bent, almost softly ... his face does not change, does not make gestures, but tells about dramas and passions accompanied only by guitar and mandolin…”(Dduje paravise - 1924)

John, Paul, Ringo, George? No, simply Dino, Nello, Vito, Florindo: here, si parva licet, the FabFour of the island of Ischia.

When, in July last year, I heard the news of the death of Nello Carneglia (aka “U’ Zeniè”), a shiver ran through back, because I had seen Nello played, only 24 hours, first in the halls of the family hotel, with his usual cheerfulness, surrounded by old friends, making fun, but, more above all, having fun: that is one of the great secrets of successful people. The “minstrels”, years before, had lost another member, who gave the group a touch of color typically of Ischia, Vito Di Maio (for all “U’ Russ”), who, with his typical attitude of parking attendant, was the most sought after by tourists for a photo.

Vita brevis, ars longa: the art and the group of Minstrels survives the death of its individual members and continues to vibrate with the emotions of Ischia evenings and traditional Neapolitan songs. A particularly strong tradition, which, while respecting all aspects of the classic Neapolitan repertoire, has adapted the form and content to the cultural climate of the area. An area recognized as an island of solar wellbeing, against a backdrop of light and warmth of nature and human feelings. In interpretations of “minstrels”, all these elements are evoked, resulting in a unique song, sweet and tender, sometimes happy, sometimes melancholy, but always passionate, just like the traditional Neapolitan song.

It was the summer of 1974 when, in a tavern of Chiaia in Forio, began the tale of the “Aquarium Folk”: name chosen because the all components of the quartet belonged to the same astrological sign. Since then, one success after another, until the consecration of Art participating in parties organized by a famous German tour operator (Ischia Reisen), in the spectacular scenery of the Poseidon Gardens.
After changing, for a short time, the name of their ensemble in “Naples Folk”, here are the final four people took the name of “The Minstrel”, suggested by an unforgotten Guerino Cigliano, who at that time was concierge of the Hotel Regina Isabella, very professional figure on our island.

The “Minstrel” had a precursor of the traditional folk music, Ugo Calise from Ischia who began his great career as a singer of “park” at Rancio Fellone, the local of swinging in Ischia in fifties. An unpolluted island which enjoyed its beauty, authentic flavors, the fragrance of flowers, the virgin sea floors of the beaches and the sea: a rural and picturesque spectacle, inviting to rest and contemplation, and constituted a refuge and inspiration for artists and intellectuals from around the world in search of their retreat. In this paradisiac climate, Ugo Calise developed a new sound, “Jazz and Serenades”: a combination that led the singer overseas, to the Perry Como Show, and has given many musicians, even today, the possibility to explore the “Neapolitan Jazz”.

'Na voce, 'na Chitarra e 'o ppoco 'e luna: so sang master Ugo Calise, and, years later, here are the four “Minstrels”, who, with guitars, mandolins, and the moon as their companion, create a band, maybe too simplistic as definition. Each interpretation enchants tourists, who, singing to the tune of the masterpieces by Salvatore Di Giacomo, Sergio Bruni, Libero Bovio, who are involved in spontaneous choruses: a bit like the Neapolitans, who, in 800, in the absence of means of reproducing music, participated actively in the dissemination of the songs.
Fenesta vascia, Luna rossa, Maruzzella, I’ te vurria vasa', Rumba degli scugnizzi are just some of the pieces offered in a wide and varied repertoire, retracing a bit of the history of Neapolitan songs, beginning from the oldest chants to go to classic and modern ones and finishing with a tarantella, or with the poignant notes of O’ surdato nnamurato.

The local success of “Minstrels” and the insight of a visionary entrepreneur, Bruno Basentini, have allowed the band to make an Italian tour in order to arrive to New York, which already had once welcomed Ugo Calise, if the “fear to fly” by Vito had not stopped the four musicians: because the “minstrels”, just like the Musketeers, had signed the pact “One for All - All for One”!

And as for the Musketeers by Dumas, also for “Minstrels” of Ischia there is a sequel: Luigi and Gianfranco have given way to support impressive and melodic voice of Florindo and the gentle hand of Dino on guitar strings , create that harmony and the expressive power that still bind, as always, the public, while Nello and Vito, the other Dduje of the ‘Quattro e paravise’, accompanied from up there, with guitar and mandolin.

Maurizio Orlacchio

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Info on Ischia island

  • Surface: 46 Kmq
  • Hight: 789 mt
  • Lat.: 40° 44',82 N
  • Long.: 13° 56',58 E
  • Periplus: 18 miglia
  • Coasts: 51.2 Km
  • Cities: 6
  • Inhabitants: 58.029

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